SALT LAKE CITY -- If the state continues to build as it has in the past, Utahns can say goodbye to locally grown food.
That was the message Leonard Blackham delivered Thursday morning at a meeting of the Wasatch Front Regional Council Regional Growth Committee.
Blackham, commissioner of Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, gave a presentation on the importance of preserving agricultural land in future planning efforts. The WFRC predicts the Wasatch Front will add another 1.4 million people within 30 years, a population increase of 65 percent.
Blackham said as regional leaders plan for that population burst, they should give as much consideration to agricultural land preservation as they do to any other growth issue, such as traffic congestion or air pollution.
"We need to have agricultural lands here because it puts the product closer to the people," Blackham said. "The ability for our country to secure food today is much less than it used to be."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2007 Census of Agriculture backs up Blackham's claim.
The average size of a Utah farm in 2007 was about 660 acres -- a decrease of nearly 200 acres from 1997, when the average farm size was 850 acres.
Blackham said once farms go away, Americans will have to rely on getting their food from foreign sources.
According to the Utah Governor's Office of Planning and Budget, food currently costs about 10 percent of the average Utahn's income. Blackham said relying on food from other countries or even other states will cause that price to go higher.
"What would it be like if purchasing food took 20 or 30 percent of our income, like it does in a lot of areas in the world?" Blackham said. "We don't want to have to wake up in the morning wondering how we're going to afford our food."
Preserving agricultural land has been a key issue among stakeholders in the West Davis Corridor project, which could ultimately extend the Legacy Parkway through the western portion of Davis County and into southern Weber County.
The two routes now being considered for the road will affect from 68 to 232 acres of "prime or unique" farmland between Parrish Lane in Centerville and 4000 South or 5500 South in West Haven and Hooper.
"We haven't got much (agricultural land) in Davis County," Blackham said. "But what we do have is critical and prime land, and we ought to be concerned about it."
Blackham said his department will spend much of its time in the near future meeting with local leaders to try to solicit support and develop solutions for the dwindling farmland.
"If we keep doing what we're doing, we are going to fill all of our agricultural land with homes," he said. "We have a lot of people in this state who like to wear cowboy hats and drive a four-wheel-drive, but we're going to need enough cows to justify that."